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Lawrence, Bonita. "Real" Indians and Others: Mixed- 
Blood Urban Native Peoples and ndigenous Nationhood. 
Vancouver: UBC Press. 2004, xviii + 303 p. Index. 

Reviewed by: Maximilian C. Forte 

"I grew up in a family that identified itself, for the first few years of my life, as expatriate 
British," author Bonita Lawrence tells us in the preface to "Real" Indians and Others (p. 
xi). Lawrence recalls the "mahogany-skinned uncles, and aunts with Native features but 
French accents," who visited her home, part of her mother's family, but were "the 
silenced side of our family identity" (p. xii). As they did not fit in with her parents' self- 
definition of "Britishness," the ostensibly non-European appearances of her relatives 
went unexplained. Lawrence was forced to be "white" in a society dominated both by 
negative prejudices against Aboriginals and an ever restrictive system for essentially 
defining indigenes out of existence by virtue of their not adhering to imposed regulations 
of "Indianness." Lawrence, like so many non-status, mixed-blood urban Aboriginals in 
Canada, was taught not to identity with her Native ancestry: "Nativeness has become too 
associated with pain and shame" (p. xvi). Regulating Nativeness so as to restrict it to 
shrinking reserves, while culturally scorning and repressing expressions of Nativeness off 
reserve, combine to produce "lifetime habits of silence," habits learned from childhoods 
in residential schools or in trying to make one's way through a society that has been, and 
remains, white dominated and racist, a society still deeply engaged in a project of racial 
deforestation that denies Aboriginal presence, save for a few pockets. [1] 

The core of "Real" Indians and Others centers on what the author refers to as the 
"organized obliteration of Indigenous presence": the erasure of Nativeness, for example 
on the many official documents that are today used to determine an individual's identity 
and heritage. Her book relentlessly challenges those assumptions that pervade the 
dominant culture that envision Indianness as something that will continue to "die" with 
mixed-bloodedness and urbanity. She also critically examines the legacy of how colonial 
regulation of Native identity has shaped Native self-definitions, varying between those 
whose Indianness is assured by federal regulation and those whose Indianness is not. As 
Lawrence explains, while one can certainly find mixed-blood individuals living on 
reserves, they are not labeled as such nor do they define themselves in these terms, since 
their status as Indian is legally assured. [2] 

As Lawrence explains, in striking though always calm prose, the book presents us with "a 
metanarrative about encounters with genocide." That metanarrative shapes the underlying 
premise of the book "that urban mixed-blood Native identity cannot be adequately 
understood except as shaped by a legacy of genocide" (p. xvii). Lawrence thus 
investigates how mixed-blood urban Native people understand and negotiate their own 
identities and how external definitions and controls on Indianness have impacted their 
identities, with especial reference to the Toronto Native community, the locus of her 

ethnographic interviews and much of her life experience as both a scholar and activist. 
Toronto is an excellent choice, on a number of fronts. As Lawrence explains, Toronto in 
many respects represents the end point for urban mixed-blood Native people, "the setting 
where the most extreme levels of dislocation exists among its Aboriginal population, and 
the site where Native people as a whole are the most invisible" (p. 19). Given Toronto's 
location in eastern Canada, where policies of displacement and genocide have had a 
longer history than in western Canada, many of Toronto's Aboriginal residents are the 
products of numerous generations of intermarriage and exile, rendering them invisible to 
the dominant culture. Urban mixed-bloods in Toronto are forced to struggle with the 
realities of both invisibility and placelessness, eclipsed by the struggles of dozens of 
multicultural communities, and facing First Nations leaders who effectively deny their 
very existence. Lawrence explores the tensions and complexities of Native identity when 
one is mixed-blood, urban, and either possessing or lacking legal "Indian" status or band 
membership. Urban contexts such as Toronto's, represent a real challenge for those self- 
identifying as Aboriginal: as the author explains, urban mixed-blood Native people by 
definition do not live in those few sites recognized by the federal government as Indian 
land. In addition to legally disqualifying individuals of mixed parentage, especially 
children of mothers who married non-Native men, stereotypes abound that suggest being 
Aboriginal and being urban and mixed-blood are mutually exclusive categories. Here 
Canadian nation-building discourses play a central role in teaching detribalized and 
mixed-blood children that they should see themselves primarily as citizens of the settler 
states, that any "real" Aboriginal identity is permanently lost to them. In highlighting the 
agency of her urban collaborators, Lawrence shows attempts at regaining, reinterpreting 
and renewing indigeneity. [3] 

"Real" Indians and Others is exceptional in providing us with considerable detail and 
analysis revealing that urban mixed-blood Native people are not extraneous to indigenous 
communities; instead, they represent the other half of the history of colonization, the 
descendants of those displaced as a result of residential schooling, enfranchisement, the 
abduction of Native children into the child welfare system, and a century of removing 
Indian status from Native women and their descendants. Lawrence's critique of federal 
Indian legislation is as thorough as it is persuasive. Her critique of racism effected 
through patriarchal principles is very solid, stunning and timely given recent protest 
movements such as that of the Six Nations which has sought to bring to light, amongst 
other issues, the deliberate sidelining of traditional female authority structures among the 
Iroquois. The end result of the various policies she examines is to continuously restrict 
and diminish membership in indigenous societies, until the "final conclusion" is reached: 
the elimination of indigenous peoples as peoples. The question of "Who is an Indian?" is 
thus highlighted as one impregnated with the history of colonial genocide. Lawrence is 
thus very critical of leaders of band councils that have assumed the same biases of federal 
legislation in controlling membership and excluding descendants from reserves. She calls 
for greater communication and cooperation between on-reserve Aboriginals and urban 
Aboriginals, in reconceiving themselves as "nations" and confederacies rather than as 
disparate bands. [4] 

The volume is divided into three parts. The first dwells on different regulatory regimes, 
with especial emphasis on the Indian Act and then Bill C-3 1 . The second part 
demonstrates the effects of these policies on the lives and self-definitions of mixed-blood 
Natives residents of Toronto. The third part shows how hegemonic images and 
definitions of "Indianness" stem from federal identity legislation and myths of the 
Canadian nation, and how these affect the self-perceptions of Lawrence's collaborators. 
The final chapter attempts to delineate a different future, one that embraces all 
Aboriginals under the umbrellas of nations and confederacies, and she seems to take heart 
that such movements are already beginning to show signs of life. The appendices to the 
volume are also very valuable, one detailing the sometimes dismal contents of Bill C-31, 
the second producing a reflexive account of doing research with urban Aboriginals, and 
the third presenting more coherent narratives from a select number of her collaborators. 

The volume is remarkable for its many conceptual, historiographic and ethnographic 
strong points to the extent that any shortcomings do not readily appear visible. Lawrence 
does tend to emphasize description over theory, but not exactly, as the description is 
clearly focused and structured and the book is written in very readable prose. The 
theoretical basis of the volume is not rendered especially clear, and some pages that 
dispute both critiques of essentialism and critiques of constructionism necessarily leave 
us in limbo. Like some other writers, Lawrence is implicitly recognizing that rather than 
continue singing the old and tired tunes of the "primordialist versus constructionist" 
opera, this antagonistic dualism is better reconceived as a complementary dualism. How 
to organize the mass of information was clearly a daunting task, and there were no easy 
solutions. Lawrence opted for segmenting her collaborators' narratives into discrete 
sections that addressed particular questions and themes of the book. Given the anonymity 
of her collaborators, it then became especially difficult to follow who was saying what 
(was this the same person who was adopted by white parents, or is this the daughter of 
the woman who lost status?), making it a real challenge to get a sense of the full profile 
of these individuals. Some of the middle chapters of the volume thus have to be read very 
carefully, and perhaps reread. The narratives presented in the final appendix should 
maybe have been moved to the start of the second part of the book. Some of the accounts 
of those interviewed were transcribed from tape perhaps too directly and automatically — 
I am not sure it is of value to read in a passage the numerous times a person says "you 
know." In the final chapters, one can sense traces of rewriting that were not edited out. In 
a few instances, introductions to a chapter appear half way through the chapter, telling us 
what the chapter will be about when it is already abundantly underway. Finally, what I 
personally wished that Lawrence would have grappled with were the many taken for 
granted assumptions that surround so-called "wannabes." Some of her collaborators, 
whose own identity as indigenous is questioned by on-reserve relatives, seemed to ready 
to use this label with others. What makes a "wannabe"? What is the problem with 
"wanting to be"? How much does this concept do to dismiss "marginal indigenes" and 
potential "immigrants" into indigeneity? However, in the end, these facets (which may 
appear as shortcomings more to some than others) really do fade into the background 
given the many achievements of the volume. [6] 

With "Real" Indians and Others, Bonita Lawrence offers us one of the most engaging, 
thought provoking and important books one can find on contemporary indigeneity, 
especially when we consider its focus on urban Aboriginals and issues of race and 
indigeneity, areas which are still only lightly covered in the extant literature. The 
substance of this impressive volume is at once ethnographic, sociological, historical and 
political, written at times as auto-biography, legal history, as a source document in its 
own right, and as a reflexive and multi-vocal interpretation of firsthand accounts. "Real" 
Indians and Others should be of enduring value for both researchers and students in 
indigenous studies, anthropology, political science and history. Its relevance and 
applicability overflow the borders of the typical First Nations studies program and 
resonates with numerous situations, from Australia and New Zealand to the Caribbean, 
especially as voiced through the biographical narrations of both Lawrence's collaborators 
and herself. Wherever the question of who is indigenous is hotly debated, wherever race 
and gender enter the discussion, and wherever orders of what Jeffrey Sissons calls 
"oppressive authenticity" are imposed on indigenous self-definitions, this book will be 
markedly relevant and revealing. [7] 


Dr. Maximilian C. Forte is an Assistant Professor in Anthropology in the Department of 
Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. He is also an 
editor of Kacike: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology . 

Book received: November 2004 
Review published: 25 June 2006 


Please cite this article as follows, including paragraph numbers if necessary: 

Forte, Maximilian C. (2006). Review of "Real" Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban 
Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood/em> Bonita Lawrence. Vancouver: UBC 
Press, 2004. [7 paragraphs] KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and 
Anthropology [On-line Journal]. Available at: [Date of access: Day, Month, Year]. 

© 2006. Maximilian C. Forte, KACIKE. All rights reserved.